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Do You Have An Effective Electrical Safety Program?

By Dennis K. Neitzel
Incorporating safety into the design of a facility is generally a standard practice for
design engineers. However, we find that the electrical safety aspects of the design are
generally overlooked. Without a thorough understanding of the OSHA and NFPA
requirements for electrical safety, it would be very easy to overlook these issues in the
design phase of any project. Electrical safety is not just putting on a pair of rubber gloves
or a flash suit; in fact, personal protective equipment (PPE) should be the LAST resort
not the first choice. There must be more emphasis placed on designing out the hazards
utilizing sound engineering practices. This article will address some of the requirements
as well as provide some suggestions on engineering design practices that would improve
electrical safety.
On August 6, 1990, the OSHA 29 CFR 1910.331-.335, Electrical Safety-Related
Work Practices regulation became a Final Rule. This regulation has been in force for
almost twelve years and yet a large portion of the industry still does not have an electrical
safe work practice procedure in place. One question that we generally get when this
subject is brought up is: is this a new requirement? We answer with No this is not a
new requirement, it has been around since August 6, 1990. In fact, on November 30,
1987, OSHA published the proposed standard on electrical safety-related work practices.
This proposal was based on the 1981 edition of NFPA 70E, Electrical Safety
Requirements for Employee Workplaces, Part II, Safety Related Work Practices. As
can be seen, the industry has had direction on electrical safety-related work practices
since 1981. So we must ask the question: Why are there so many who are not even aware
of these electrical safety requirements? In addition, why are there so many, who are
aware of the requirements, and yet are not in compliance?
Before developing 1910.331-.335, OSHA surveyed several states, with the following
results: For every requirement set forth in Part II of NFPA 70E, OSHA found injuries or
fatalities which were directly relevant. These work practices are not just suggestions
they are mandatory requirements that have been promulgated to help prevent injuries and
fatalities that are unfortunately happening at an alarming rate even after 21 years of
standard requirements for electrical safety programs and procedures.
As was noted in the beginning statement, many aspects of electrical safety can be
engineered into electrical equipment as well as the facility design. In addressing this
issue we must first understand what the hazards are. All of the studies reviewed have
revealed three major hazards of electricity, which are: 1) electrical shock, 2) electrical arc
flash, and 3) electrical arc blast. Each of these hazards will be addressed as to the
physiological effect on the human body as well as some suggestions for electrical design
that could help protect employees from the hazard.
Electrical shock: It takes a very low value of current, flowing through the human
body, to cause death or serious physical harm. Many studies have been performed in this

area with different values of current that causes each effect. The following chart shows
average values of current and the effects as taken from the published studies:
Current

Effect

1 mA
1-3 mA
3-9 mA
9-25 mA
25-60 mA
60 mA or more
4 A or more
5 A or more

Barely perceptible
Perception threshold (most cases)
Painful sensations
Muscular contractions (cant let go)
Respiratory paralysis (may be fatal)
Ventricular fibrillation (probably fatal)
Heart paralysis (fatal)
Tissue burning (fatal if vital organ)

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.333, as well as NFPA 70E, Part II, requires employees, who are
exposed to the electrical shock hazard, to be qualified and that the circuits or equipment
be deenergized and properly locked and tagged. However, if they must work the circuits
or equipment energized then they must use safe work practices and procedures, and the
appropriate personal protective equipment. The only real design engineering practices
for the shock hazard would be to ensure that all electrical components are enclosed and
that these enclosures are properly grounded, in order to protect employees. The safety
professional however, would need to be familiar with the equipment and the hazards
involved in order to ensure that the electrical safety requirements have been complied
with. The main problem that we find is that covers are not reinstalled on equipment
following maintenance and testing. This situation exposes all employees to the electrical
shock hazard.
Electrical arc flash: There are two different issues with this hazard, the arc
temperature and the incident energy. The main concern with the arc temperature is the
flash flame and ignition of clothing. At approximately 2030F for one-tenth of a second (6
cycles), the skin is rendered incurable or in other words a third-degree burn. With only
1.2 cal/cm2 of incident energy, we have the onset of a second-degree burn. It does not
take a very high temperature or very much energy to cause extreme pain and discomfort
to the worker. The use of many synthetic materials, such as acetate, nylon, polyester, and
rayon either alone or in blends are prohibited where an electrical arc might occur. These
materials, when exposed to flames or electric arcs, can ignite and continue to burn and
will generally melt and adhere to the skin increasing the extent of the injury. In some
cases 100% cotton will suffice, however in most cases clothing must be made of a flame
retardant (FR) material. The incident energy, however, is a radiant energy that will pass
through the clothing (even if it is FR material) and could ignite underclothing or burn the
skin. The Flash Hazard Analysis, as required by NFPA 70E-2000, Part II, Chapter 2,
paragraph 2-1.3.3, must be performed in order to determine the level of hazard and the
appropriate PPE. As with the shock hazard, PPE should be the last option. The hazards
must be engineered out of the design and installation of electrical systems and equipment.
Some considerations for engineering out the hazard are to:

Install electrical equipment that will either contain or properly vent the arc flash and
blast pressure.
Use current limiting devices such as current limiting reactors or current limiting fuses
to limit the available short-circuit current in the electrical system.
Use remote operating controls for circuit breakers so the operator does not have to
stand at the equipment to open or close it.
Use extensions on the racking mechanism, for circuit breakers, that extends through
the cubicle door so the breaker can be racked in and out with the door securely
latched closed.
Install an effective and accessible grounding point for attachment of temporary
personal protective grounds on metal-clad switchgear and in substations.

Electrical arc blast: The pressures developed by an electrical arc can be extremely
high. One study noted that copper, when vaporized, expands at a factor of 67,000 times
which one expert stated was the same expansion as dynamite. Doors or covers must be
securely latched before operating a switch or circuit breaker. Technicians or operators
must place their body in the safest position before operating the equipment. Flash suits
will protect against the flash/flame and incident energy hazards but will not protect
against the pressures of the arc blast.
Several other engineering considerations must be taken into account. These include,
but are not limited to, up-to-date electrical protective device coordination studies, up-todatet short-circuit analysis and regularly scheduled preventive and predictive
maintenance and testing programs for the electrical protective devices.
In order to perform a Flash Hazard Analysis the engineer must know the protective
device clearing time and the available short-circuit current. However, another
consideration is maintenance of the electrical protective devices, primarily circuit
breakers and protective relays. If these devices are not maintained and tested per the
manufactures instructions, they are subject to excessive time delays or complete failure.
If an unintentional time delay occurs the Flash Hazard Analysis results will become
invalid and the employee will not be adequately protected and could suffer injury or even
death as a result.
Electrical safety must be considered in designing, installing, and maintaining
electrical systems and equipment. These are not just good ideas; they are mandated by
OSHA regulations and NFPA standards for the protection of all employees.
________________________________________________________________________
Dennis K. Neitzel, CPE, is the Director of AVO International Training Institute, Dallas, Texas. He is a Principle
Committee Member for the NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety Requirements for Employee Workplaces and is
co-author of the Electrical Safety Handbook, Second Edition, McGraw-Hill Publishers. He is a member of the ASSE
Engineering Practice Specialty. Contact Mr. Neitzel at dennis.neitzel@avointl.com for more information.